In the regency era, a marriage of convenience between two people trapped by circumstance may lead either to happiness or the risk of total ruin.
First Second presents Ruined by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Niki Smith, a graphic Regency romance marketed for fans of Bridgerton. The story opens with the marriage of Catherine Benson and Andrew Davener. Catherine comes from a respectable family and her situation offers a large dowry to whichever man marries her. However, she is overshadowed by swirling rumors that claim she lost her virtue under scandalous circumstances. Andrew’s family has seen a string of deaths, forcing him into the unexpected role as head of a household on the brink of financial ruin. Knowing fully that each is the other’s last chance of redeeming their situations, their wedding is agreeably one of need, not passion.
Such an arrangement naturally comes with difficulty, even before the ghosts of Catherine’s and Andrew’s pasts begin to reappear. But as the couple begins to work together to rebuild the Davener estates and put their affairs in order, something new begins to grow between them. The sparks of love are undeniable, but also terrifying to two people who have found themselves adrift in turmoil they never expected to face. And if they dare to trust one another, it opens their comfortable arrangement up to the possibility of even more heartbreak.
For Ruined, the comparison to Netflix’s Bridgerton series is inevitable. Thankfully, the resemblance goes deeper than the simple trappings of the genre. The world of Ruined embraces a welcome level of diversity. Though the two leads appear to be white, characters of various ethnicities inhabit multiple levels of society throughout the story. Additionally, sub-plots involve side characters of other sexualities and neurodivergence, and all of these characters are integrated smoothly into Vaughn’s version of Regency England. As for the central story, marriage of convenience is a familiar trope, and Vaughn plays it out mostly as expected, though not without some touching moments scattered across Catherine and Andrew’s growing relationship. The writing could sometimes be honed a bit more to the razor sharpness that shines in regency romance stories, but fans of the genre will find plenty to enjoy here nonetheless.
Searle’s art presents a distinct illustrative style, drawing together elements of realism with a decidedly more animated appearance that will work well for some readers, while it will leave others wanting. There are times when the simplicity pays off. In other moments, the story seems to want a rich complexity that the art simply does not capture. However, from lush balls and gardens to moments of intimacy and awkwardness, Searle’s work undeniably portrays the layers and vulnerability of Catherine and Andrew as they are forced to face themselves before they can take a chance on true happiness.
First Second does not list an age rating for this title, but with multiple scenes of nudity and sexual content, Ruined would live most comfortably in the adult areas of any collection. In the end, the book does not rise to the same heights as the Bridgerton show and some similar titles, but it has an undeniable charm which should please readers looking for additional Regency-era romance stories—especially in graphic novel form where this genre of romance is not as common. It may not draw in new readers to the genre, but for any readership that is already onboard with regency romance and related tropes, Ruined is worth considering.
By Sarah Vaughn
Art by Sarah Winifred Searle, Niki Smith
Macmillan First Second, 2023
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Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)